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By JEFF NESBIT
David C. CookCopyright © 2013 Jeff Nesbit
All rights reserved.
The first time was so casual, it didn't seem real. Even now, it doesn't seem possible. But it was very real—more real than anyone will ever know.
I considered for a long time whether I could ever bring myself to talk about any of this. In the end, I came to realize that it simply didn't matter. No one would believe me.
That first time, my twin brother, Jude, and I were sitting outside on the front porch, the sun fading below the Appalachian mountain ridgeline off to the west.
I was staring at the trees that bordered our foster parents' farm. I wasn't thinking about much. Jude and I were both quiet. It had been a peaceful summer day. We were going into the fifth grade together the very next day. We'd been talking about the ghastly teacher neither of us wanted but were stuck with. "Horrible Harriet" was what last year's fifth-grade kids called her.
And then I saw it: the thing looked like a large, black crow, perched on a tree branch just over the fence line that marked halfway between the porch and the barn. But it was too big to be one of the crows that were ubiquitous in rural Loudoun County, west of Washington, DC.
Even from my vantage point, I could tell it was out of place on our farm. I glanced at my brother. He wore an odd smile.
"See it?" I asked, turning my attention back toward the creature. It lifted off the branch at that moment and began a slow, lazy arc in our direction. As it drew nearer, I could tell it was most definitely too big to be a crow.
"Yeah, I see it," my brother answered quietly.
"Way too big for a turkey buzzard or a hawk," I said, transfixed. "But what—" I stopped short as the creature picked up speed. I could hear the faint flapping of its wings, even from this distance. It was the largest bird I'd ever seen.
Settling on top of the fence post closest to the porch, across the driveway, the creature fixed its eyes on ours. I stared hard, trying to figure out what it might be. Ugly, black, and wrinkled, it resembled a giant, hideous bat.
"What an ugly bird," I managed.
"It isn't a bird," my brother murmured, his odd smile still fixed in place.
"Then what?" But, even then, I knew. My brother said nothing. He didn't need to.
My brother had called the creature. I don't know how or when—or where it had come from, for that matter. But he had called it, like he'd said he would. To take care of "Horrible Harriet" for both of us.
We sat there for a very long time, just us and that creature. In the dim light, I could almost make out its face. It was round, like an owl's, and misshapen. At least, I felt certain it was a face. I couldn't really tell.
* * *
We had a different teacher the next day at Waterford Elementary School. "A most unfortunate accident," the principal told us as he introduced our new teacher to us.
"Horrible Harriet" had been in a nasty car wreck the previous evening. She'd likely be in the hospital for months. So we were going to have a new teacher, a rumpled, elderly woman who'd taught at the school for years and had agreed to postpone her retirement for another year.
And that, my dear friends, was the first time Jude called on them for something he wanted or felt like he wanted. It seemed so simple. For him, I think it probably was.CHAPTER 2
My editor tossed a magazine and a newspaper on my desk—an old copy of Forbes magazine that had my brother's face on it and a copy of today's New York Post. There was a faint swish as they slid across the surface and settled a few inches from the edge.
"Is it true?" he asked me.
"Is what true?"
"Your brother. Is he running for the US Senate seat in New York? the Post has it on page six."
"Based on ...?"
"Something someone overheard at a dinner party." My editor shrugged.
"I'm assuming it's an anonymous source?"
"Of course. But I'm standing in front of someone who's in a better position to know and can confirm it for the metro desk."
I glanced down at my brother's face on the cover of the Forbes magazine. They'd profiled him years ago with the headline: "Can He Save Us?" At the time, it had merely been a question. Since then, Jude had answered it fairly satisfactorily.
I hadn't talked to my brother much since Forbes had put together his profile, which they did shortly after his daring bet that had almost single-handedly saved the dollar on global currency markets. I'd declined to talk to the reporter, but he'd found plenty of other sources for the extraordinarily flattering profile. Countless sycophants surrounded my brother, especially since the Forbes cover piece had cemented his reputation within the global business community.
"Couldn't tell you," I answered truthfully. "I haven't talked to him in two years."
"Really?" My editor seemed genuinely surprised.
I hated questions about my brother. Everyone always wanted to know things about him.
Did he really bet every single dollar he'd inherited against the Chinese yuan, crashing the currency of the planet's second-biggest economy on the world market and netting him nearly 10 billion in American dollars when the bet went his way? Was it true he'd done it so he could send China's overextended lending institutions into a tailspin, boost the US economy, save the dollar, and then become chairman of the Federal Reserve? Was it true he'd gotten his law degree from Harvard in just two years and his MBA from Stanford in only nine months? Was it true he'd turned down offers to be secretary of the treasury because he was more interested in the presidency?
I always had the same answer: "Ask Jude." I didn't speak for him, and he was more than capable of speaking for himself. In fact, that's what everyone always said about him. Jude was a brilliant, mesmerizing speaker. He could walk into any room with a crowd, big or small, and walk out with a new legion of fans. People hung on his every word. He certainly didn't need me to speak for him.
"Hmmm," said my editor. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and simply stared at me. John Hargrove was a good guy, and the environment and science reporters he managed at The New York Times liked him immensely. I was one of those admirers. Hargrove had always been fair and decent to me, his problem child. But I also knew when he was serious. He didn't have to say anything. I knew what he wanted.
I sighed. "I'll call him and ask. But I want you to know I'm not happy about it. Jude and I do our own thing. I don't see him much, and we hardly ever talk. His world isn't my world. I've tried hard, as you know, to put distance between the two."
"Fine. I understand," Hargrove said. "But you'll get his answer?"
"Yeah, I'll get his answer. But it's gonna cost you ..."
Hargrove smiled. "Let me guess. The Arctic trip?"
"Yeah, the Arctic trip. I get his answer, and you put it in the paper. I get permission to go see the ice in the Arctic—what's left of it. I'll put together a piece that you'll be proud of."
"I'm not worried about that. I'm assuming you want time to report on the conditions there?"
"Yeah, I'll need at least two weeks," I answered. "I'll get out to the middle of the sea on one of the oil ships. I've already got the route planned. I can probably catch a ride, and it won't cost the paper much."
The unspoken truth—and Hargrove knew this—was that I could buy a ship to carry me to the Arctic. But I'd never operated that way and wouldn't now. I played by the unwritten laws of journalism. I tried my utmost never to cut corners, ethical or otherwise. Hargrove appreciated it. Other editors at the newspaper thought I was a bit out of my mind.
Hargrove thought about it briefly. "I'm not sure I want you taking a free ride on one of the oil company's ships ..."
"They're already going that direction. Don't worry. I plan to throw in a bit about the oil they're finding, but my real focus will be the ice."
Hargrove peered down at the Forbes magazine cover and then back at me. "All right. You've got a deal. But I want an answer from your brother. If he does this—and I'm assuming he likely will—you and I both know where it will ultimately end up." He strode back toward his windowless office in the interior of the Times building.
That was one of the things I admired about Hargrove. He'd opted for a smaller, less glamorous office, so he could hang out with the reporting staff who worked out of cubicles.
I knew today's deal hadn't been a tough call for him. I'd been lobbying him for weeks to be able to get up to the Arctic to report on the sea-ice situation and what it meant for the planet. Most likely, he'd been ready to cave in to my relentless pursuit of the story, so confirming my brother's plan to run for the Senate was a convenient quid pro quo for him.
I actually had to pull out my cell phone to search for Jude's personal number. I literally hadn't called him in two years—not since the incident that had nearly ended our relationship and severed all family ties.
I found his number and dialed.
Surprisingly, Jude answered before it went to voice mail. "I knew you'd call," he said without preamble.
"My editor asked me to," I replied coldly.
"Sure, whatever," Jude said lightly. "Still, I'm glad you called. I've wanted to talk to you about this. I think it makes sense, but I wanted your advice on what the media will think of it, how they'll play it. This is a necessary stepping stone, but it can go sideways if I'm not careful."
I closed my eyes. If I'd been a religious person—which, surprisingly, given everything I'd learned over the years, I wasn't—I'd have said a quick prayer to God. But no prayer emerged. I opened my eyes and forged ahead. "I guess it was simply a matter of time.
You've done everything else. Politics may as well be next up on the Jude World Adventure Tour."
I could almost see my brother smiling on the other end of the line. "You know me better than anyone, Thomas. You always have."
"Yes, I suppose. But what advice could I possibly offer? I'm sure you've studied this from every conceivable angle. You always do. You always have."
"Yes, I have. But I'm concerned that some in the media might look at this as a diversion—or worse, as an ill-advised effort to buy a seat in the Senate."
"So?" I snorted. "Like you'd care. Others have done precisely that. Bloomberg ran for office with his own money. So have others. If you have the money, you can spend it. The Supreme Court has already given billionaires like you the right to spend whatever you want to get the national government you want—"
"Calm down, brother," Jude said. "We're not talking about that here, and you know it. I don't intend to buy an election for someone else."
"You intend to buy it for yourself."
"Sure, if need be," he answered calmly. "But the real question is whether it makes sense to do this right now, not how I actually accomplish it. That's merely a detail."
I had to laugh. "Yeah, a minor detail, the democratic process."
Jude ignored me. "So how will the media play it? Will they get it? I need them to take this seriously. It's important."
I shook my head. I knew Jude already had the answers to the questions he was asking. He was only looking for validation from me, as always.
"Seriously?" I said. "You're asking me how the media will play the story? You know precisely how they'll play it—that you'll become a senator and then use it almost immediately as a platform for higher office after that. Unlike me, every other reporter on the planet adores you and follows you around like a puppy—the blunt, straight-talking Jude Asher, who doesn't pull punches, takes enormous personal and professional risks, and always tells it like it is. How could the media not swing in behind the story line? It's scripted perfectly. Even your enemies, if you had any, would get it."
"Good, good," Jude said. "I thought as much. But it's great to hear it from you. You have a sense for these things. You've always had that gift, knowing a good story when you find it. It's why you're a great reporter. It's why you'll win a Pulitzer Prize one of these days for all your 'save the planet' nonsense—"
I cut him off. "I'm not trying to save the planet. It'll be fine. I'm trying to save us, the human species. And I'm not a great reporter, but I'm not sure where else to be or even what to do. Most of my colleagues have no idea why I'm here."
"Because of the inheritance and the wealth? The fact that you're—"
"Yeah, of course," I snapped. "They're not stupid. They have a general idea what we're worth—what both of us are worth even if I have separated myself from you and the business. They'd all kill to have what I—what we—got from our adoptive parents and from all of your business ventures, bets, and efforts."
"Not only my efforts," Jude murmured. "You were right there with me, brother, every step of the way ..."
Somehow we ended up here in every conversation. I was tired of it. I'd been tired of it for as long as I could remember. There was nothing I could do to change Jude's mind, and I wanted no part of his approach to life. He'd chosen his path. I'd long ago decided that I'd find something else to pursue, something that didn't intersect with Jude's world.
"Yeah, okay," I said curtly. "So I can tell my editor that it's true? You're running for Senate?"
"Yes, it's true," he admitted, "and I hope you'll join me, join the campaign effort. It would be good to see you again, to work together—like we used to before your inexplicable decision."
"I have my own life, Jude," I threw in tersely. "It doesn't revolve around yours. Not now, not ever."
"As you wish, brother," he said gently. "But you'll at least show up for the campaign announcement? You'll give me that? You're the only family I have, Thomas. It's only the two of us, especially now our adoptive parents are gone. It's always been just the two of us against the others."
"Yeah, and I think the others got the short end of the stick," I said in a wry tone. "I'd never bet against you, no matter how many they line up on the other side."
"Ha! There's the brother I know."
"You may not know me as well as you think. I'm trying to see if I can't give back a little."
Jude laughed. "Good for you. You tell me how that works out for you and the rest of the world. But right now, can I count on you at the campaign appearance? It'll be fun. I think the setting will surprise you."
"Nothing about you surprises me anymore, Jude. You, of all people, should know that. You may have others fooled. But not me."
"So you'll be there?" he pressed.
"You really need me there?"
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't," Jude said. "And honestly—at least to the political cognoscenti who follow these things closely—it would just raise more questions than you'd care to answer if you weren't there. I think you can probably see that for yourself, given the newspaper you work for."
"Okay, yeah, sure. I'll be there," I grumbled. "But I'm not saying anything on your behalf. Please don't ask me to say anything nice about you publicly. Not now or ever. You might not like what I'd say."
"Thanks, brother." He chuckled. "Glad you're in—and I'm glad you called. It's been far too long. See you soon."
I hung up and almost jumped out of my chair. I truly didn't know what to do about my brother. I had no idea. And if I were honest, I'd never known. He'd made up his mind, and there was no pushing him from the path.
I moved through the Times' newsroom quickly, toward my editor's office, and walked in without knocking. "It's true," I reported. "He's running."
"And we can attribute it to him?"
"Yeah, Jude Asher, the billionaire investor and former chairman of the Federal Reserve, confirmed to The New York Times that he's running for Senate in New York. You get one guess what he plans to do after that."
Hargrove grinned. "I guess he didn't have anything better to do right now?"
"Apparently not." I turned to leave. "Okay, I'm out. You'll see me in two weeks. I'm going up to the top of the world to see if they have any polar bears left. I'll send you a postcard."
"I'd better see more than a postcard," Hargrove growled.
"Don't worry. You will."CHAPTER 3
It was only a different type of game to him at first. But, not surprisingly, it became more as he grew accustomed to it. Jude wasn't satisfied to just call on forces—he wanted to learn how to use his mind to get other people to bend to his will. I think he enjoyed the mind games even more than his ability to call on outside forces to get what he wanted.
"You worry too much," Jude told me. "What's the worst that can happen? We get kicked down the road to yet another foster home? It's not like anyone would believe us or even care. They don't punish you for your thoughts or what you tell people."
"I know, but ..."
Excerpted from JUDE by JEFF NESBIT. Copyright © 2013 Jeff Nesbit. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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